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Chapter XL.

Of the boys who when bringing to a sick man some figs, died in the desert from hunger, without having tasted them.

But since in the section in which we proposed to say something about the strictness of fasting and abstinence, kindly acts and deeds of charity seem to have been intermingled, again returning to our design we will insert in this little book a noteworthy deed of some who were boys in years though not in their feelings. For when, to their great surprise, some one had brought to Abbot John, the steward in the desert of Scete, some figs from Libya Mareotis,874874    The Mareotic nome is the district round Lake Mareotis, a lake in the north of the delta bordering upon the Libyan desert (the modern Birket el Mariout), and running parallel to the Mediterranean, from which it is separated by a long and narrow ridge of sand. as being a thing never before seen in those districts,—(John) who had the management of the church in the days of the blessed Presbyter Paphnutius,875875    On Paphnutius see the note on the Conference III. i. by whom it had been intrusted to him, at once sent them by the hands of two lads to an old man who was laid up in ill health in the further parts of the desert, and who lived about eighteen miles from the church. And when they had received the fruit, and set off for the cell of the above-mentioned old man, they lost the right path altogether—a thing which there easily happens even to elders—as a thick fog suddenly came on. And when all day and night they had wandered about the trackless waste of the desert, and could not possibly find the sick man’s cell, worn out at last both by weariness from their journey, and from hunger and thirst, they bent their knees and gave up their souls to God in the very act of prayer. And afterwards, when they had been for a 248long while sought for by the marks of their footsteps which in those sandy regions are impressed as if on snow, until a thin coating of sand blown about even by a slight breeze covers them up again, it was found that they had preserved the figs untouched, just as they had received them; choosing rather to give up their lives, than their fidelity to their charge, and to lose their life on earth than to violate the commands of their senior.

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